In August 1989, Pete Rose agreed to permanent ineligibility from baseball, amid allegations that he bet on baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds. In 1991, the Hall of Fame formally voted to exclude those on the ineligible list from Hall of Fame consideration. That decision, of course, was directed at Rose, who was due to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time later that year.
Rose's path to the Hall of Fame has thus been blocked for 24 years. Yet here we are, 24 years later, still discussing Pete Rose's chances to get elected to the Hall of Fame.
Do we still care? Has Rose paid his penance? Should we make him suffer a Walk of Shame so we can throw rotten fruit at him and call him names? Should commissioner Rob Manfred reinstate Rose, still a beloved figure in Cincinnati and to many who watched him play? Should the sport toss aside the agreement Rose signed with then-commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989, dismiss that Rose committed the most unforgivable sin in the game and allow him back in good graces? Is it time to put down our stones?
On Monday, documents obtained by Outside the Lines indicate Rose bet on baseball while still an active player. Rose, after denying he bet on baseball for 15 years, finally admitted in 2004 that he bet on the game, but only as a manager. This was, Rose hoped, his path to redemption: honesty, forgiveness, Hall of Fame.
The new documents, however, suggest that Rose was not completely forthcoming in 2004. In 1986, he was player-manager of the Reds, finishing up his final season in the majors and in his second full season as manager. Maybe it's a matter of semantics -- Rose could claim he meant only years he managed (even if that meant years he was also a player) -- but that seems to be giving Rose a big benefit of the doubt. Rose very well knows Rule 21 (d), a rule long posted in every major league clubhouse:
BETTING ON BALL GAMES. Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.
Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.
Rose bet on baseball games (Reds games and others) while managing. He bet on baseball games while playing. If Manfred ever were going to consider Rose's reinstatement -- and given Manfred's clear independence from former commissioner Bud Selig, that had to be viewed as a strong possibility -- it depended on forgiveness. Well, it's going to be a lot harder to forgive Rose now.
This year, Rose once again applied for reinstatement. It is, probably, his final chance. A new commissioner who already has distanced himself from Selig; fewer old-time Hall of Famers like Bob Feller still alive, Hall of Famers who wanted Rose nowhere near Cooperstown and let the Hall of Fame board know that; a potentially sympathetic Veterans Committee (where a reinstated Rose would likely be voted on); and, importantly, the simple passage of time.
But this new news brings the ugly past back into light, a reminder that Rose's off-the-field persona was much different from the gritty Charlie Hustle fans admired. He gambled on baseball (and everything else, it seems), he evaded taxes, he hung out with sleazy drug and steroid dealers who placed bets for him. For better -- and worse -- Rose was a man of excess.
Some argue that all that matters is what Rose did on the field -- all those hits, all that success, all that dirt on his uniform. Nobody loved the game more than Pete, right?
Maybe not. But he apparently loved gambling more.
Pete Rose is 74 years old. He had Hall of Fame numbers. But he's not getting in.